Visit to Catchpole & Rye
Nine members of the Worshipful company of Plumbers were led on a visit to the upmarket sanitary ware company, Catchpole & Rye, by the Master, Dr. Peter Rumley. The business is located deep in apple-growing country at Pluckley just west of Ashford, Kent. It was founded some thirty years ago by Liveryman Tony O’Donnell, who was introduced to the WCoP by the Master a year ago.
Tony had started the enterprise in the form of business dealing in salvaged Victorian baths and sanitary ware. He soon came to realize that he could provide his customers with a better product and service by manufacturing the same products as new. From the outset these were produced with authenticity. No plastic and fibreglass fakes or imitations for Tony. He was determined to produce the real deal: genuinely crafted bathroom products manufactured to the quality of old, relying on traditional materials and old craft skills. Catchpole & Rye is most evidently styled in the form of a traditional business. Tony is ably supported by his wife, Eileen, together with their son and daughter, underpinned by a loyal and enthusiastic staff.
WCoP liveryman were given a full tour of the Pluckley works by Tony O’Donnell and his son, Jack, supported by members of their staff after having been given a warm Irish welcome over coffee and cakes. The tour included a substantial collection of brass plumbing ware and antique toilet pans. Over the years, the O’Donnell family has deconstructed old items before determining ways in which to faithfully replicate the parts for the manufacture of authentic products; the best materials have always been used. Modern technologies are also used to assist old craft skills were necessary. For example, polishing machines are used to polish the metal products and the factory boasts state of the art robotic lathes to machine metal parts.
The warehouse boasted shelf after shelf showing the output generated, including cast iron and copper bateau baths alike, together with cisterns and shower products. Forty per cent of the output is destined for export. The business boasts showrooms in Ashford and London.
Lunch was taken in the nearby Dering Arms, which had been built as the hunting lodge for the Dering Estate, one of the largest estates in the area. Past Master John Rae gave the vote of thanks, expressing our appreciation of both the warm welcome and the luncheon.
It was a pleasure to see a family pulling together to make a success of their business and their warm Irish welcome was much appreciated by all. The O’Donnell family is sure to make its mark with the Plumbers’ Company now that Tony is a liveryman.